Here comes unified communications

FaceTime Communications is a hot number when it comes to looking over a market segment and finding the pain points. This time it is unified security and unified management for unified communications. The company named their solution Vantage, and I got a chance to look it over. Cool stuff. And, actually quite useful.

So what, exactly, does Vantage do? Let's start by looking a bit at the challenges of unified communications. By unified communications we mean bringing together all types of real-time communications into a single suite of services. Sometimes the vendor offers the services and sometimes the organization builds the appropriate servers and provides the unified services internally.

Even though some providers, such as Microsoft, offer unified communications applications, many organizations opt to mix vendors and build up their own infrastructures. You also need a way to manage users. That means not only factoring in such operational aspects as provisioning, but security issues, such as who can use what service(s). Real-time communications is a security nightmare because it is fairly easy to exfiltrate sensitive data before anyone knows it is gone. That means monitoring content in real time, too.

Underlying all of these issues are regulatory compliance requirements. Such things as e-discovery start to get a bit suspect when you are unsure what data is moving in and out of the network during a Skype chat session, for example. Finally, real-time communications are such malware magnets that many organizations simply block all such services. Having the ability to manage malware as part of the communications service management opens a lot of possibilities for progressive companies that want to apply unified communications to their business.

Vantage does all of these things and more. For example, a subtle aspect of managing who can communicate with what services is who can communicate with whom. Sometimes this takes the form of ethical walls that allow policies for keeping certain types of users from communicating with certain other types of users.

Vantage has a wide array of supported platforms. One especially important one is Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS). Vantage manages OCS with policies at company, user and group levels, and provides extensive and secure logging and archiving, data leakage protection, e-discovery, group chat, Live Meeting and malware protection – making it a solid OCS companion.

Similar support levels and functionality exists for the Lotus equivalent, Sametime. BlackBerry is supported especially well for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and Skype too fits right into the Vantage picture.

The tool is policy-driven. Building policies is straightforward, and the menus are simple and intuitive to use. One can figure out how to configure and deploy Vantage with minimum effort, and granular policies are quick and easy to create. Further, users may be controlled relative to the unified communications platforms that they are allowed to access and the tasks that they are allowed to perform. For example, users may be allowed to chat rooms, but not to create them. They can be allowed to or prohibited from using audio, video or collaboration. And LDAP directory services can be the source of groups and users for the policies.

Overall, it certainly appears that unified communications is going to stay with us, and Vantage is a must-have if you are planning your own corporate deployment.

Product: Vantage
Company: FaceTime Communications
Price: From $8,775 for 100 users, including the first year's maintenance and support.
What it does: Provides a platform for granular security policy and compliance controls and ensures security, management and compliance for real-time and unified communications – from presence and instant messaging to conferencing and voice.
What we liked: Usually we are not fans of bundling a lot of disparate functions into a single product. There is a risk that defense-in-depth will take a hit. In this case, though, the security functions are so tightly integrated with the management functions that we like this one a lot.
What we didn't like: There are some functions missing that I believe are solid requirements for security. These include managing the content of video and audio communications the same way that Vantage manages written communications. However, we were told this is on the way through collaborations with third-party developers.

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